I did a lot of planning for this trip, especially since we were visiting two countries at a time. However, I did not plan well enough for what we encountered at the airport.
Hanoi Immigration- Visa on Arrival
We arrived in Hanoi after a short flight from Cambodia. I made sure we had our Visas prior to arriving in Vietnam. I had all the copies of the approvals and every correspondence referencing the visas. Well, somewhere along the lines something went wrong, very wrong.
The Vietnamese custom guards took our passports and told us we needed to pay $25 per passport. At the time, we were living in South Korea, and it was normal carry won instead of US dollars. We had enough to pay for the fee in won, but not dollars. The Vietnamese Immigration Officer demanded “ONLY US DOLLAR!”
The closest ATM was OUTSIDE the controlled area which a passport is required. Basically, we were trapped in immigration. I sat there in a panic wondering how we were going to get our passports back and get back on a flight to Korea.
Generous Man Saves the Trip!
Thankfully, another English speaker was waiting in the holding area with us. I asked him if this was normal entry process to Vietnam and he said yes. I explained our situation and he was kind of enough to give us the money in order to get our passports back.
As we went to the ATM to return his money, our bank blocked any withdraws. We explained the issue to the kind gentleman and he understood. All he asked was for us to send him a check when we get home and apologized for any inconveniences. He said do not let this prevent us from not enjoying our time in Vietnam. He arranged for a taxi to our hotel and wished us well.
When we came home, first thing we did was send him a check and a big thank you. If it was not for him, I do not know what the outcome of our trip would have been.
We took a cab to the InterConntinental Hanoi Westlake. By the time the issue at the airport was resolved, it was dark. Upon arrival to the hotel, I was very impressed. Our rooms were very modern and clean. I used my IHG points to pay for our rooms; otherwise, we would have chosen somewhere else.
We arrived so late; the only place open within walking distance was the bar. The bar tender was very friendly and made us a local favorite adult cocktail. *Trying to remember the name of it* All I remember it was green. After a restful night sleep, we went to the breakfast which was amazing! Had something for everybody. The pool was lovely, but considering it was April, it was very cold & misty. No time for swimming.
Getting Around Hanoi
There are tips of knowing which taxi’s are safe. I will have to relook some of my travel notes to see which ones are legit. We were told at the hotel “DO NOT GET INTO JUST ANY TAXI.” There are a lot of scams in Hanoi and for safety sake, educate yourself before you go!
Motorcycles are everywhere! The traffic in Hanoi is unlike anything that I have ever seen before. Very few stop signs, lights, or directional signs. It can be very dangerous for walkers! Stay Alert! Stay Alive!
One of my travel goals is to taste all the coffees of the world. We walked around to many stores to look for coffee. I did purchase a traditional coffee maker as seen below. I’ve tried coffee while vacationing in Costa Rica, Europe, and Indonesia. Nothing prepared me for the strength of the Vietnamese coffee experience.
That’s not Starbucks!
My daughter likes to have the occasional sip of my Starbucks. I asked her “Are you sure you want to try this?” and she insisted. Needless to say, she did not like it. I enjoyed it, but it was very strong. It was served with condensed milk.
Hanoi Scam: The shoe theft
I was standing on the street while the rest of the gang was shopping. I was minding my own business when a young man came up to me and took my shoe off my foot! He continued to run across the street and started to fix my show, which by the way was not broken. I kept asking for my shoe back and he demanded money. I did not get my shoe back until my husband saw what was happening and came out of the store. The young man gave me my shoe and ran away.
Hanoi Scam: The Pineapple Lady
We were minding our own business when this lady came up to my daughter, placed a hat on her head. The lady said “take picture!” So we did, and then she demanded $5 dollar! We exchanged words and ended up just buying some pineapple, which ended up having hair in it. We did not ask for a photo nor did we approach her first. Watch out for the pineapple people.
No trip to Hanoi would be complete without a tour of Heartbreak hotel. Ever since I was a teenager, I knew that one day I would serve in the US Military (which I did) and would read books on POW’s and military history.
As a daughter of a Vietnam Vet it was chilling to walk the halls of the Ho Lo Prison.
One of the best things I love about traveling is experiencing history from another’s perspective. The photo was made by a “guest” to celebrate the holidays. I did not speak during the tour, it was truly a time of reflection.
Overall the trip was good. I understand why more people like to travel to Ha Long Bay. If I could do it again, I would plan for Ha Long Bay or Ho Chi Minh City. The weather was kind of gloomy and was rainy. We decided to go to the spa for the afternoon. We were all able to relax and spent very little. The whole time, the spa ladies were trying to figure out if my husband was President Obama. Sadly, this is not the first time in an Asia country was he compared to Obama.